MEET: Audio Feelings with Sichangi

If you’re familiar with the contemporary Kenyan urban music scene you have no doubt heard about Sichangi and heard his music. And if you don’t know this guy, we are super-happy to introduce you to him. Samuel Sichangi has seduced ears and souls with his productions that are filled with beautiful details and passion. Artists love when he does a remix. His name has been dancing around us for a while. And when we joined Patricia Kihoro on Afrocentral and asked listeners who they would want us to interview, again Sichangi was the main request. We knew we would get good music and cool info, but Sichangi gave us so much more in this conversation – including dropping a new release which is a collabo with Wilough (Willow Smith), Jabs (Jarah Aubrey) and Tyler Cole. It is with much joy we share this with you. Meet producer and artist Samuel Sichangi.

Sichangi. Photo by Khalid Ramirez.

How would you describe yourself to someone who is not familiar with you and your work?
SS: I would describe myself as a creative who just relates with what one would deem as the inner “childish” ideas (e.g when you’re bored and you just start humming your own melodies). I’ve just learnt how to tune into that, and develop it into a tool for bringing out emotion in people and inviting them to find the part of them that’s able to resonate with my personal experiences, cause there are just some things everybody goes through and they tend to feel like they’re the only ones going through it. Be it from achieving great things, to grey life moments.

You have been making music for a while, but kept a fairly low profile for a long time, was it conscious?
SS: Initially, it was not conscious. When I started releasing music I tried as hard as I could to promote myself publicly and just attain public attention really. But there came a point where my hunger to be better was not being nourished by the opinions of the mass public but just by paying attention to certain individuals and how they execute their actions and why they do what they do. So I started being more free with how I express myself, going beyond making some 4 to the floor EDM, and moving to being influenced by culture, soul, and heart. This led me to filter all the non-constructive feedback I got and the process of me striving to be better and being hungry to watch my own evolution just made me do what I do, instead of worrying about how much attention or rather how little I get.

What lead you to music in general, and specifically to producing?
SS: Initially, my Mom wanted me to play the piano when I was much younger, I played for about six months then I stopped. Then I had a really deep interest in guitars when I was 13 and I picked that up and learned it for four years. In the midst of learning guitar, I started learning about music more in general and I wanted to express myself beyond just learning songs on guitar. So I searched up on what software people used to make music. I tried Reason cause I was really into Stromae and I heard that’s what he uses, but I gave up on that within an hour. Then I found out about Fl studio and just did nonsense for 2 years trying to figure it out. Then I started figuring it out more and more each time when I thought I was about to quit (which happened twice), and now here I am still trying to figure it out really.

Do you play any instruments?
SS: The aforementioned Guitar and Piano.

Is there a track or remix of yours that you are particularly attached to, and if so, which one?
SS: I’m attached to all of my songs in a way really, I was having a discussion with an artist and we talked about how our songs are like our metaphorical children and how we can love one for a period of time then have a new favourite and the cycle continues. But I’d say that “I Don’t Wanna Give Up” is a significant song because it’s the song that drove me to actually execute Hold On, funny enough it was made three days before I released the EP and was a last minute addition, and it was because around that time I had my doubts about the EP.Which personal qualities or personality traits are important to have as a producer?

Which personal qualities or personality traits are important to have as a producer?
SS: PASSION, PASSION, PASSION, a lot of patience (with yourself and with the public, as you’ll see so many people you’re with really popping and blooming and you’re waiting in the line for cream). And also just transparency with what you put into your music, as it helps your audience actually get a clear picture of who you are. Otherwise its hard for them to attain trust that even you as an artist really relate to whatever you’re trying to convey.

Hold on cover art by The Art Of Mwangi Kariuki

What inspires you?
SS: My journey inspires me. At a point music became inseparable from my life because it fed directly on it, so that changed a lot and helped me break my own ceilings which I had created. The artists I look up to who I relate with inspire me. Also my friends in the scene, who are doing amazing things, so I can’t really fall behind. But the biggest thing is my hunger to influence people and be that voice they think they don’t have. And that really comes from within, because I have been able to affect my own life with my unreleased music and I want to do the same for those who would take the time to understand what’s beyond the sound. Am trying to show my appreciation for the side of my audience that sees a world when they listen to my music and not just a soundcloud waveform with a statistic etched in the corner. The thought of my purpose and path envisioned for me by God inspires me to strive to fulfill it as well.

Who else inspires you?
SS: Mick Jenkins, Thundercat, Hiatus Kaiyote, Blinky Bill, Goldlink, Noname, Wondagurl, J Dilla, Little Simz, Mura Masa, Kaytranada, Sampha and NU FVNK.

How does the creative climate of Nairobi influence you?
SS: When I’m in Nairobi I tend to make up-beat music more often but it varies. I get a lot of influence from the flavour of the city and just its different dynamics being amusing and just being able to find some form of hype somewhere at whatever time on whatever day especially cause of the connections I’ve made over time. The creative climate is insane! It’s raining so heavily every damn day in Nairobi, it’s just that the public gets to hear the final product ages later.

When you feel uninspired, do you embrace the feeling or try to find inspiration?
SS: I embrace the feeling because I have to understand why I am feeling that way, because I can’t move forward if I don’t know where I’m moving from. Sometimes I also just have to recognize that life isn’t always sunshine and rainbows and people do get uninspired. So my way of dealing with that is just discovering new music and letting my mind find the appealing aspects of the new music I’m listening to, then after a while my subconscious just draws influence from that and throws it at me when I have a new idea. Sometimes I won’t realize that’s where the influence came from until much later because of how I embedded it to my own styles, it just ends up sounding like something totally different. But sometimes it’s more evident, e.g the Kaytranada influence in the recently released ‘African Lituation’.

Do you listen a lot to music when you’re not working or do you then seek silence?
SS: I listen to music all the time. When I’m not working, I’m either gathering influence from music, or just gathering energy through brining out the urge to dance and then displacing that into whatever I need to actually do instead of dance. Sometimes I put on music but I’m not really listening to it, so that’s like my version of silence, because when I’m contemplating my mind just blocks out everything around.

What gives you confidence? And is personal confidence and creative confidence the same?
SS: Seeing how powerful one can be, and just not underestimating myself and the things that I can do and have been able to do thus far gives me confidence. The same? Yes and no. For me it’s pretty hard to separate them in the sense that I portray my raw emotion as it is creatively, so the creative confidence I have is really me being confident in myself to actually express MYSELF. But then again there’s the technicalities of creative confidence in terms of how well you’re mastering how to put down your stuff and sometimes you may find that you’ve advance in skill and are more confident to do certain things using certain techniques but you haven’t really poured your heart into the actually sound itself.

Do you have a dream project or collaboration?
SS: I definitely do. There are many, but I think the ones that top the list are Mick Jenkins and Hiatus Kaiyote.

Why do you love doing what you do?
SS: Doing what I do gives me life, there’s nothing than can replace the feelings one gets through music, and I love being responsible for making people feel certain ways (which encourage forward progression through various ways). I love doing what I do because I’m closest to myself when I do it, I’m closer to home, I’m closer to God and God’s essence within.

What is the purpose of music?
SS: I think the purpose of music is quite broad. The purpose of music lies with the creator of the music, because music isn’t just one thing. There’s no standard for music, and what music is.

What do you do when you are not making music?
SS: I learn how to play different songs, I hang out with friends, read up on various artists and their influences, I think (a lot). I watch series occasionally but barely, mostly just when I’m eating. I’m currently studying Law as well so I have classes and work due that I need to dedicate time to as well.

What makes a good remix? And how much can you remix something before it becomes a new track?
SS: For me a good remix brings a totally different aspect to the song and it makes the listener amazed that such a version of the song was even possible. It really depends on what you’re trying to borrow from the original song. If your remix relies on a lot of the content of the original, there ends up being less space for you to build on it. But it just really depends on how you decide to interpret the original anyway. For most of my remixes, I actually need up listening to the original after I’ve already done the remix, for example on ‘Stranger Interlude’ as well as ‘Take a Stand’.

Elaborate a bit on this please: “I try to be coherent with my work in terms of what I try to make people relate to”, what is it you try to make people relate to?
SS: I try to make people relate to my life experiences and certain goals as much as they can or would like to. I have a normal life behind my music so that’s what I try to show them and make them realize that I’m just a person like them. I don’t have some special secret to doing what I do, I just had to dig within myself and really push myself to be my biggest supporter.

What characterizes the Kenyan music industry right now and where do you think its going?
SS: I think its going everywhere. With the amount of diverse brilliant minds in the industry, I can never know where it’s going because there’s so much being orchestrated behind the scenes. So I just know that a big change is coming and already taking place with all the boundaries that are being broken especially with the argument what “Kenyan music” should be.

If someone is unfamiliar with Kenyan music and you were to put together a playlist for that person to listen to, what would it include?
SS: It would include a lot. There’s a lot of rich music that’s taken over the airwaves (maybe not as much in terms of quality but in terms of how they charged up the scene, with regards to older music) from E-sir to the evolution of the electronic music scene pioneered by Just-a-band and MDQ, to the urban scene being sparked by Camp Mulla to what’s actually present in this emerging scene.

Who are your personal favorites on the Kenyan music scene and why?
SS: My personal favourites right now are Kato Change, Blinky Bill, Cosmic Homies, Quassa and so many more. The only common factor they have is that in whatever unique diverse body of work they execute, they kill it because of the passion they have to attain their various goals that bear beneficial to the upcoming culture.

What do you wish the world knew about Kenya?
SS: I wish the world knew how much active potential is bubbling up from the creative industry in general, to the cultural influences and experiences that lie within Kenya that can’t be found anywhere else, and how immensely that can change one’s views on issues and life in general. I myself don’t even know half of what that is, but through the process of exploring even without Kenya, I’ve learnt how pick up on various things when I get back into the country.

Photo by Esther SIchangi.

How do you want people who listen to your music to feel?
SS: I want them to feel empowered, I want them to feel the inner child in them surfacing because of how I create my music sometimes. Like everybody at various points in their life becomes so bored that they start singing their own non-existent melodies, or drumming on the table when they’re fidgeting. I just figure out a way to tune into that wild expression and refine into a body of work you can actually listen to.

Artists love having you remix their stuff, why do you think that is?
SS: From what I gather, they just dig the stuff that I’m doing and the styles which I’ve been aiming on developing for a while.

Do you have a favourite sound that you always find yourself returning to or wanting to add?SS: Yes and no. For the sounds which I identify that I end up loving a lot, I restrain myself from using the most, because I don’t want to thrive off of that sound all the time. And I’m all about not having one fixed sound or rather being able to be as versatile as possible with the amount of genres I keep on learning how to work with and borrow from.

I read in an article that you describe your music as “sensual.” Tell me more about that.
SS: I say that because of the emotion I put into all my songs, the intention is for the audience to really feel a certain way, and I try do that by really trying to enhance the environment that I’m trying to get them to picture through various production techniques mixed with the sound my heart wanted to hear when I was experiencing what I try to portray. The songs are usually made around the time I’m going through whatever it is, or sometimes I’ll draw on how I felt in the past when I’m in a more rational state to be able to actually understand what the actual emotion was and the reason behind it.

If someone goes from discovering you through this interview and now wants to explore your music, where should they start?
SS: If someone does indeed pick up an interest in my work after reading this, I suggest they check out this collaboration between me and MSFTS rep (a collective of young creatives who aim to change the perception of most people with regards to various things) artists Jabs (Jarah Aubrey), Wilough (Willow Smith) and Tyler Cole. The collaboration happened over the course of this past 2016 summer and finished in late July. The song was originally supposed to be on the Hold On EP, but the release was delayed on their side for various reasons. Now the song is finally out. It drops today.

Tell us something more about your experience producing this?
SS: On my behalf, in the moment of producing the beat, I was just really carried away by how heavy the first synth heard in the song and how it just pulled my heart cause of that drag, and I just built rest of the song with my heart feeling above the clouds.

What is your best general advice?
SS: Be honest with yourself.

Thank you Sichangi for taking the time to share your thoughts, creativity and music with MeanwhileinKenya. We look forward to dancing and living to your beats.

For more Sichangi:

Photo by Khalid Ramirez.

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